This beautiful oceanfront city's Pride weekend has grown into the fourth-largest Pride March in the country. Thanks largely to Bill Hardt, it has also expanded into one of the biggest party weekends of the summer. Since 1997, when he took over producing the world-famous Zoo Party, Hardt has grown his franchise to the point that he spends the entire rest of the year preparing for a stellar weekend of parties that take over the city's biggest mainstream clubs.
The eighth-largest city in the country, San Diego has long been known for its year-round pleasant weather, extensive beaches, Balboa Park and laid-back vibe. San Diego has long derived much of its identity from the U.S. Navy, whose Pacific fleet is headquartered in the city. Balmy weather, a supportive city government, an active club and bar scene, healthy outdoorsy all-American men, and all those sailors — no wonder this Pride attracts people from all over the world.
Every July I-405 turns into an "expressgay," as a caravan of Angelenos take the two-hour drive south. They, along with thousands of others, want to experience for themselves a spectacular weekend lineup that encompasses four major events; the Friday night Pride Ball, Saturday's Circuit Daze, Sunday's world-famous Zoo Party, and the closing Fete Accompile later that night. These parties take over the city's biggest rooms with top Circuit stars spinning to full — and incredibly hot — crowds. The pacing of the parties is perfect for allowing plenty of quality time on the dance floor with just enough rest to enjoy shopping, sunbathing and sightseeing.
The crown jewel, the Zoo Party, has taken its place as a truly legendary gay event. The San Diego Zoo provides what must be one of the most dramatic backdrops for a dance party, straight or gay, in the world. The Zoo, which sprawls over 100 acres, is perhaps the most famous in the world and pioneered the concept of open-air, cageless exhibits that recreate animals' natural habitats.
Thousands of people enjoy music in a wondrously decorated open-air party space that includes several bars and plenty of clean washrooms — no waiting in lines and risk missing out on the entertainment! The party starts mid-afternoon and goes on right into the night, when the lighted decorations show off the venue to full advantage. Lots of guys come in animal outfits, although just-plain homo sapiens muscularis works just fine.
Best of all, Hardt donates some of the proceeds to local LGBT groups and AIDS service organizations. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised over the years, making these parties truly a reflection of the way we know how to celebrate Pride: having a great time and giving back to the community.